Vampires are big. They have had successful books (Dracula), movies (Let Me In), games (Castlevania), TV shows (True Blood) and comic books (American Vampire). They have also had some rather unfortunate hiccups along the road that has hurt them as well, like all of Twilight, Vampire Rein, and whatever the hell Priest was, for instance.
However, that’s just the stuff in America (including remakes of foreign films), but what about other places, like Japan? What do they have to offer when it comes to vampires? Well, lots of stuff, like Hellsing, Vampire Hunter D, Blood+, and Vampire Knight (one of these things is not like the others…). Here’s one of the latest vampire mangas to get released state side. Is it good?
Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written By: Takaya Kagami
Drawn By: Yamato Yamamoto
Translated By: Adrienne Beck
In 2012 (I hate it when I sleep through this sort of thing), a deadly virus appeared and pretty much wiped out all of humanity except for one group of people: children under 13. With humanity nearly destroyed, vampires appeared and took over things, forcing all of the children underground where they make them their food supply. Two of these children are 11 year olds Yuichiro Hyakuya, a dumb hothead with dreams of defeating the vampires, and Mikaela, a much more level-headed kid who thinks about survival and trying to stay low.
One day, Mikaela presents Yuichiro and the rest of the kids from their old orphanage a map that he swiped from a mansion of one of the higher class vampires. The map shows them an exit out of the underground kingdom and during the middle of the night, they make their escape. However, a dark and tragic twist hits them on the way out and only Yuichiro is able to escape. Once he makes it to the surface, he discovers that humanity had not been completely wiped out and almost everything he knew was a lie. He is then met by Guren Ichinose of the Japanese Imperial Demon Army, who offers him a chance to join them and exterminate the vampires once and for all.
Why are the little girls almost always the most powerful and leaders of vampire forces in Japan?
After finishing the first chapter, I was immediately sold on this book. While premise-wise, it was a bit familiar and something we have seen done similarly before, the setup was fantastic and had a lot of good twists right away. It painted an interesting and not-so-distant future with this new vampire society and how the rest of the humanity was dealing with it. The villains felt like a real, dangerous threat who were intimidating and meant business. It had a big, emotional gut punch and flipped almost everything we learned up to now on its head, while giving a great backstory and motivation for the main character. You could easily come away being rather invested in everything and want to know what happens next.
The rest of the book took a rather odd turn, moving the setting away from the underground lair, and not to a battlefield or even training academy to show Yuichiro preparing to fight the vampires. It instead moves to a normal (for the most part) high school setting, dealing with high school antics. The basic story here is Yuichiro is on suspension for disobeying orders and is forced to attend the high school until he is deemed fit to return to basic training or something like that. Sure, the book throws a few curveballs in there to keep it interesting and challenge our hero, but it’s a rather odd turn that feels almost out of place after everything we had just seen.
The book also during this time introduces some more concepts and mythology here. It talks a bit more about the vampires and how their strength works, introduces more characters to the mix (like Shinoa Hiragi who is keeping an eye on him to Yoichi, a bullied high school student), it gets into how the army works and what society is like now, and more. It’s pretty decent stuff and rather intriguing, especially with some of the more mysterious names and items briefly mentioned at the end.
She could have told him sooner, but where’s the fun in that after all?
Now with the characters, our lead is Yuichiro and I’m slightly mixed on him. He’s more along the lines of your typical male hero character: he’s strong and confident, but also impulsive and rather stupid with a touch of being incredibly lucky at points and possibly super special (if some dialogue is to be believed). He’s a bit bland in that regard, though with a jerk-like personality to him. However, he’s good and has a sympathetic backstory with what happens to him and that helps explain his personality later on. He lost pretty much everyone—his makeshift family—when he escaped. Him not wanting to make friends or being cold towards others has some meaning to it. Hopefully, he gets better as time goes on and he starts evolving in some ways as the story progresses.
The rest of the cast is made of Shinoa, Yuichi, Guren, and someone who surprisingly isn’t dead like we thought he was. There’s not much in the way of backstory for them at this current point, except for a brief bit we get about Yuichi, but that’s fine at this stage of the story. Starting with Yuchi, he’s more along the lines of your usual weakling/wimpy character who you know will eventually grow and evolve into more of a badass somewhere down the line. We’ve seen this character several times before and not too much stands out about him, though he does have a few funny moments that get a laugh. Guren is a military figure who is both very strong and confident, but also snarky and likes to mess with Yuichiro at times. There’s not much else to him either at this point, outside of some good lines and moments.
Shinoa stands out the most of the supporting cast and easily my favorite character so far. While we don’t have much backstory for her, she has a more well-defined personality and character. She’s an army surveillance officer whose job it is to keep an eye on Yuichiro and report any positive or negative behavior he has to her superior officers. She’s both helpful him to him during his suspension, but also not above screwing him around to get him into trouble or mocking him either. However, she has her own motivations and beliefs that make some sense (to her at least) and help define her more. For instance, she likes calling Yuichiro a virgin and mocking him about it, but she has a reason for it. With there now being a big drop in the human population, she believes people should be having more sex and there should be more affairs out there to encourage repopulation. Weird, but it has some sense in it.
I think this is her not subtle way of saying she wants you, dude.
In regards to the writing, it’s pretty decent here outside of the story and setup. It’s a well-paced and structured story so far, with every chapter serving a purpose with no real sign of decompression or padding to it. Thematically, there’s a sense of friendship and family, something a lot typical Shonen-type (stories aimed at boys) stories tend to have. It also seems to touch on survivor’s guilt and revenge briefly, with how it affects and motivates some of the characters after a terrible tragedy has happened to them. It provides the series with a few quiet and reflective moments that are rather good.
I would say there are a few hiccups in the writing though that don’t worry hurt the story, but feel rather unusual. One of the first being Shinoa’s introduction, where she introduces herself to Yuichiro by writing on her notebook during the middle of class. After a bit though, she starts talking with him instead of writing, even though they are still in the middle of class. A rather odd inconsistency. There’s a scene in the third chapter where Shinoa tells Yuichiro not to talk about this weapon that was infused with a demon, since a weak-willed person could become corrupted and lose his soul. She makes it sound like a huge deal and very dangerous. He does it anyways and falls into some sort of trance, where the demon tries to corrupt him. However, the scene barely lasts a few pages and is over without much of a fuss. It feels underwhelming after the buildup, not as serious as threat as it was made out to be, and lends more to the idea that Yuichiro is just lucky.
Then there is the artwork. It has a more usual and typical style with how characters are drawn, seen in the hair style and faces. It’s perfectly fine of course, but nothing that jumps out too much in that department. It does have some fantastic looking layouts and use of angles and distance to depict certain scenes, especially in the action. Speaking of which, the bit of action we got here was decently depicted and has some good energy to it to excite the readers. Nothing too big yet, but I’m hoping that’ll change as time goes on. Also, we didn’t see much of it, but some of the creature and monster designs are decent looking from what has been shown. Again, hopefully we’ll see more of it soon.
Hold on! Time out sir! I need to reattach my arm here and then we get start.
Is It Good?
Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign Vol. 1 is off to a good start. It’s got a great setup to it, good mythology and twists in the story, solid writing, interesting themes, and great artwork. It’s got its problems for sure, but there’s a ton of potential here that at least warrant checking out the first volume.